February 4, 2010

Wrestling Opens Ivy Season vs. Columbia, Then Takes On Hofstra

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The classic Pee Wee sports mantra “You’re only as strong as your weakest player” doesn’t apply so well to a team stacked with talent. The wrestling team is set to begin its Ivy League season this weekend with seven wrestlers ranked individually, including the highly touted freshman, No. 1 Kyle Drake, at 141 pounds and the always-impressive junior and All-American, Mack Lewnes, also first in his class at 174 pounds. Overall, head coach Rob Koll’s team boasts five returning All-Americans and seven NCAA qualifiers. However, following a loss last week against Iowa State, Cornell (3-4-1) finds itself ranked only seventh in the nation according to the latest Intermat/NWCA dual meet poll –– a triumph for many programs, but not necessarily for the confident Red.

Of course, all the talent in the world means little if that talent is underperforming, Koll said. “We have a lot of great wrestlers,” he said. “But we need some of the guys to play up to their potential.”

Bluntly put, the Red needs to step it up as the deadline for Nationals approaches. “We’re not winning,” Koll said. “We’re not beating these teams. Let us get a [win] before we complain about the rankings.”

Columbia will challenge first with a 2 p.m. dual meet tomorrow at the Friedman Wrestling Center. While Cornell holds a lopsided 81-12 edge in dual meets and has not lost such a match in over 20 years, Columbia’s six returning starters seem to have so far done their homework this ofseason. The Lions are 6-5-1 so far this season, and have already doubled their win total from the 2009 season.

Koll said the disparities between Cornell’s and Columbia’s records can likely be traced to the quality of the teams each has played so far. “Columbia hasn’t had the same kind of competition,” he said. “And [hopefully] that should show.” In contrast, “we really front load our toughest competition,” Koll said. “And then when we go into the Ivy League we feel pretty confident.”

Senior Troy Nickerson, the Red’s national title-holder at 125 pounds, may find a worthy opponent in Columbia’s win leader, Kyle Gilchrist. Nickerson has been in and out of the lineup lately, nursing a shoulder injury. If it were any other wrestler, Koll said, competing might not even be an option. But “when you’re Troy, you can get away with that stuff,” he said. An extremely versatile athlete, Nickerson is able to make up for any weakness on his injured side because he’s so good on top, on the bottom and in neutral position.

Cornell traditionally has very good luck against Ivy foes, with its four veteran wrestlers ranked amongst the top 12 in the country sporting perfect career records in Ivy competition. Nickerson is 13-0, junior Mike Grey is 10-0, Lewnes is 6-0 and sophomore Cam Simaz is perfect so far in all five of his matches.

The Red will turn around immediately following the Lions match-up to take on its second foe, Hofstra, at 5 p.m. Cornell is no stranger to doubleheaders such as these, but the opportunity may serve as another chance for the squad to demonstrate its stamina and reaffirm the wisdom of the coaching staff’s infamous training regimens.

Cornell also holds the historical advantage against Hofstra (5-7-2 overall), with an 11-4 edge including three straight victories. Matchups to look out for will be with the Red’s two unranked wrestlers, senior John Basting (157) and junior Justin Kerber (165), who will both be competing against the Pride’s two ranked opponents ­­–– No. 16 Jonny Bonilla-Bowman at 157 and No. 17 P.J. Gillespie at 165.

Basting, Koll said, can be very tough, although he doesn’t always show it, while Kerber will need to step up his game as well if he hopes to defeat Gillespie.

The Red’s strategy against both schools will be to hit hard and early. This will set the tone and rack up team points behind the dynamic trio of Nickerson, Grey and Dake, so that by the time the middleweights hit the mat, the challengers will feel overmatched and “shell-shocked,” Koll said.

Original Author: Meredith Bennett-Smith